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United Nations Corruption and the Need for Reform

March 2013

  • The United Nations is a hotbed for corruption and abuse.  It is opaque, diplomatically immune, largely unaccountable – and has come to regard billions in U.S. tax dollars not as a privilege to be earned, but as an entitlement.
  • The UN does not issue clear reports to donor nations on how their money is spent. That includes the United States, the U.N.’s biggest donor, which bankrolls roughly 25% of the U.N.’s soaring system-wide spending. In Fiscal 2010 (the last year for which the U.S. administration has provided any total figures), U.S. taxpayers contributed more than $7.7 billion to an incoherent U.N. system-wide budget, which by some estimates has continued to expand to well over $30 billion per year. 
  • In the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, which shapes the core budget and works on a system of one country-one vote, the U.S. is often marginalized or out-voted, despite contributing funds totaling more than two-thirds of the least-assessed U.N. member states combined. Decisions tend to be dominated by substantially nondemocratic voting blocs, such as the 56 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (headquartered in Saudi Arabia), or the 120 member Non-Aligned Movement, chaired from 2012-2015 by Iran.
  • In recent years, the U.S. has done too little to require accountability or responsibility of the UN. Since U.S. law required the cut off of U.S. funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for admitting the Palestinian Authority to full membership in 2011, the U.S. administration has been pushing not to change UNESCO, but to waive U.S. law. This has emboldened further anti-American moves at the UN.
  • The U.N. in some cases uses U.S. money to actively undermine American values and interests. For instance: Procurement of dual-use technology for Iran and North Korea by the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, or the previous dual-use procurement Cash-for-Kim scandal involving the UN’s flagship agency, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) violating its own rules to transfer dual-use goods and hard currency to the government of North Korea. Or the U.N. offering itself as a platform for gags on free speech, and for such anti-American anti-Semitic exercises as the 2009 Durban II conference in Geneva (featuring Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a main speaker), and Durban III conference in 2011 in New York.
  • Among many other examples of U.N. abuses: The Human Rights Council, even after a major 2006 “reform,” continues to keep scrutiny of Israel as the only standing item on its agenda, condemns Israel more than any other state, and among its members newly elected in 2012 are such human rights abusers as Pakistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kazakhstan and Venezuela,
  • UNRWA, the U.N.’s Palestinian Refugee Agency, to which the U.S. is the biggest donor, was created in 1949 as a temporary outfit, but more than 60 years later has become an entrenched welfare system, its client rolls swollen five-fold to some 5 million recipients, impeding peace and fostering terror in the Middle East. Headquartered in terrorist-controlled Gaza, UNRWA in 2011 opened a representative office in Washington, staffed by former U.S. congressional aides, in effect using U.S. tax dollars to help promote UNRWA’s interests to Congress and the administration.
  • The U.N. has failed to reform. Following the Oil-for-Food scandal, in which the U.N. profited from and covered up for billions in Baghdad kickbacks and corruption, the U.N. in 2006 promised greater transparency, accountability, an end to Peacekeeper rape, the elimination of redundant mandates, and a more ethical culture. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in office in 2007 promising “to restore trust” and calling for a system-wide audit. None of these things has been accomplished.
  • Inside the U.N., a special anti-corruption task force set up in 2006 was dissolved at the end of 2008. The U.N.’s internal audit division, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, has been roiled with scandals and frictions, including a former chief of the unit accusing the UN Secretary-General of “deplorable” actions to impede her hiring of investigators, and charging that “the secretariat is now in a process of decay.”
  • Among UN member states, the only serious oversight comes from the U.S., the great majority of the other 193 member states being effectively free riders on U.S. credibility and funding. The only real levers for reform have been exposure of abuses and withholding of U.S. money, and on neither front has the U.S. administration been taking stands strong enough to maintain leadership..